We’ve all seen that scene in a television show or a movie – a car slides off an embankment or a bridge, or is nudged off the road into a lake, and the driver finds themselves trapped and drowning. It may seem like a dramatic moment and nothing more, but the fact is, we drive near bodies of water all the time. The chances might be higher than you think. According to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, up to 400 people a year die this way.

Think about it. How many times have you swerved to avoid an animal or another car? How many times were you crossing a body of water deep enough to submerge your car?

Even if those two things seem like they don’t intersect all that often, isn’t is better to be prepared? I certainly think so! Below are some must-read (and must-memorize) tricks that could save your life if you find yourself trapped in a car underwater.


#1. Don’t Panic

It’s the same first rule they teach you when taking SCUBA lessons – panicking underwater will kill you as fast as anything else. It steals your energy and your available oxygen, resulting in poor decisions and potentially passing out. Stay calm.


#2. Go for the Windows, Not the Doors

Every moment counts. Don’t dial 911 – they won’t get there in time. Instead, roll down the windows. It’s very important to go for the windows first and not the doors. According to Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, a professor at the University of Manitoba, you have about 1 minute of a “floating period” before the water pressure forces the windows tighter in the frame. You won’t be able to roll them down after that happens.

Also, survival expert Ken Burton suggests not unbuckling until you have an open window, and even holding onto the steering wheel to keep yourself in place as you do it.


#3. Keep a Tool Handy

If you miss the floating period, you’ll have to break your window. There are tools on the market that fit under your seat, like the Life Hammer or ResQMe Keychain, or you can plan on trying to break the glass with your hand or foot. What’s important: have a plan.


#4. Kids First

Everyone should ideally go out their own window, but smaller kids might have trouble swimming against the pressure. Send the strongest out first, then carry or pull the younger ones before you all swim quickly away from the car.


#5. Last Ditch Effort

If you want to be really prepared, practice holding your breath. If you can’t get the windows down or broken, you’ll have one last chance to escape – after your car fills completely with water. At that point all of the pressure will be equalized and you’ll be able to get out the doors. But you’ll need to have enough oxygen left in your lungs to get to the surface.

There you go! It won’t be easy to keep your wits about you if you ever find yourself in this situation, but if you can remember this advice, you’ll be on the right track.

Check out the video below for some visuals, as well as some additional thoughts.

h/t: Earthables, Washington Post, Popular Mechanics